Ralph Virden, Jack-of-all-Trades
Ralph Virden was hired at the Zoo as a carpenter in 1930, but in his 28-year career, he went on to play a significant role in the construction and development of the San Diego Zoo, retiring in 1958 as Superintendent of Buildings and Grounds. It was said that during his time at the Zoo, Ralph supervised the construction of nearly every building, enclosure, pathway, and road within the grounds.
In the early days of the Zoo, however, when the Zoo staff numbered less than 30, he took on many roles and was known as a “jack-of-all-trades,” including occasionally acting as an animal keeper. One of his more memorable duties was traveling to New York to pick up gorillas Mbongo and Ngagi and bringing them back in a Railway Express train car. During the WPA projects at the Zoo in the late 1930s, he supervised some 200 WPA workers assigned to the Zoo by the government. He developed the Zoo garage and auto repair shop, oversaw the construction of the Zoo Café, and was so well respected for his work that Dr. Charles Schroeder asked him to accompany him to to Hawaii when he was asked for his help in planning the Honolulu Zoo.